From the British royal big breast secret bookcase

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Bob Hale sent in the photograph below with the following note:

I am currently living and working in Baiyin in Gansu province. I am trying to learn some Chinese but proving to be rather a poor student. My spoken Chinese is poor and my written Chinese non-existent so I am having trouble explaining the English on this sign. I follow your Language Log entries with great interest and when I see a sign I can usually take a guess at what might have happened but this one has me baffled. Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

I'm in Wales at a conference on the medieval Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang (inspiration for the monk in the famous Chinese novel, Journey to the West), so I don't have time to do full justice to this spectacular sign, but I will get things started, and invite others to fill in the gaps.


is the brand name, formed by reversing the syllables of the usual word for "beautiful", měilì 美丽, plus rén 人 "person". (Lìměi 丽美 usually signifies "Korean-American," since lí 丽 is short for Gāolí 高丽 ["Korea"] and měi 美 is short for Měiguó 美国 ["America"]; we may parenthetically note that surgical implants are much in favor in The Land of the Morning Calm and that Google Translate renders Lìměirén 丽美人 as "Korea Beauty".)

Zhōngguó fēngxiōng lǐngxiān pǐnpái
"leading Chinese brand for big breasts"

huóxìng néngliàng fēngxiōng
"large / bounteous breasts with lifelike function"

yuánzì Yīngguó huángshì fēngxiōng mìjí

The Chinglish phrase featured on the sign, "Tips from the British royal breast", is a slight rewording from Google Translate's version:  "From the British royal breast Tips".  More literally:  "having its source in the British royal big breast secret bookcase"; mìjí 秘笈, which is here rendered as "tips", is derived from an old term referring to a collection of Taoist or other books replete with arcane, esoteric knowledge.

ānquán, jiànkāng, zhuānyè
"safe, healthy, professional"

zhèngzhòng chéngnuò
"we solemnly pledge"

xiàoguǒ túchū
"spectacular results"

"dare to come"

That is, "[we] dare / challenge [you] to come [in and take our] offer".

I'm not sure exactly what 3D means; extra large cup size, I guess, but with those sonar-like semi-circles emanating from the model's left boob, it also makes me think of the stereoscopic effect such mounds would present to the beholder.

Anyway, the 3D is bǎozhèng 保证 ("guaranteed"), so you needn't worry.  If you pay your money, you'll be sure to gain the desired effect.

Incidentally, the large, orangish sign on the building in the background proclaims: Yìdàlì fēngwèi 意大利风味 ("Italian flavor"); I wonder what they are selling.

Before closing, may I make a request?  I'm in Cardiff, so I see a lot of bilingual Welsh-English signs, but I'm not hearing much Welsh being spoken on the streets.  I'd appreciate suggestions for where to go in Wales to find those towns where Welsh is spoken in the pubs.


  1. jonathan wright said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 8:23 am

    To hear Welsh spoken in the pub, you'd best head west or north. In Cardigan on the west coast, where my sister lives, I hear Welsh in the street all the time. The Cardiff area, by contrast, is very Anglophne.

  2. Gav said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 8:30 am

    In central Cardiff try the Mochyn Du in Pontcanna or the Fuwch Goch in Womanby Street (very narrow street just opposite the castle).

    Otherwise any pub west of Carmarthen, where according to reports even the di-Gymraeg feel obliged to switch to Welsh as soon as a saes enters the room. It's also widely spoken in the North, but with a Liverpool accent. The people are a bit odd up there.

  3. Richard Gadsden said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 8:31 am

    If you want to meet people that speak Welsh, then you need to head for the North-West of Wales (Gwynedd) – more or less anywhere on the coast from Conwy to Aberystwyth, and even more so on Ynys Môn.

    If you can't travel that far, then head west; as soon as you're past Swansea you'll start hearing a lot of Welsh.

    The pubs where people speak Welsh are more likely to be village pubs than urban ones, though.

  4. Tom L said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    In Cardiff hearing Welsh is more luck than design. Most Welsh speakers will speak English by default and switch to Welsh when with family & friends.

    As a lady I know put it ' Welsh is the language of the hearth'.

    Anyway my recommendations (cardiff only as that's where I live!)

    Gwdihw is a nice bar that often has Welsh speakers, and is right in the center of town.

    The Chapter Arts centre (Canton) also has a Welsh contingent.

    For the majority of the pub speaking Welsh, West or North Wales is your best bet –

    If they have rooms available the Harbourmaster in Aberaeron is excellent, and lots of Welsh spoken out and about.

  5. Observation said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    Mr Mair, I hope you don't mind if I point out that you seem to have mistaken 领先 (lǐngxiān) for 预先, which means 'beforehand' rather than 'leading'.

    [VHM: thanks; fixed now]

  6. Bob Hale said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    Thanks for the help. I can offer some help with the sign in the background, though it isn't very interesting. I'll send another picture later but what you can't see is the other sign on the building (a restaurant) which is in English and offers "Italian style ice-cream".
    I look forward to reading any further comments.

  7. marie-lucie said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 9:31 am

    How did the "British royal" whatever get in there? Is that supposed to be the epitome of beauty, health, etc?

  8. Victoria Simmons said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 9:37 am

    Alternate interpretation of the boob sonar is that the new breasts will feature stereophonic sound.

  9. T Stein said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 10:29 am

    It is not all that far from Cardiff to the west coast. Worth a drive if you have the time. Esepecially beautiful this time of year. I echo the recommendation regarding Aberaeron (or points north and south of there along the coast).

  10. Brett said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 11:00 am

    @Victoria Simmons: Actually, the thing that bugged me most about the image was the asymmetry of the image. It's not stereophonic; there's apparently no output from the right boob. The more it look at her, the wronger this looks.

  11. Rubrick said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    It's clear to me that that left breast is the British Royal Breast, and that it's whispering tips to me — about what, I know not.

    I would have expected the British Royal Breast to belong to an actual member of the British royalty, but monarchy has never been my strong suit.

  12. Nik said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

    I was wondering about the 3d. here's my theory, 2d is, planar, i.e., flat. so…
    you get the idea

  13. Dean Barrett said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 11:52 pm

    I believe Richard Bernstein wrote an excellent book on the journey of the monk called Ultimate Journey.

  14. minus273 said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 1:53 am

    >> Lìměi 丽美 usually signifies "Korean-American," since lí 丽 is short for Gāolí 高丽 ["Korea"] and měi 美 is short for Měiguó 美国 ["America"];
    Hardly anybody really calls Korea 高丽; nobody abbreviates that to 丽.

  15. minus273 said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 1:55 am

    >> gǎnlái
    >> 敢来
    >> "dare to come"
    It's in a same sentence as the words below: 敢来就让你大, if [you] dare to come, [we'll] make you[r breasts] larger

  16. minus273 said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 1:57 am

    丰胸 is a nomen actionis "breast enlargement", not "bounteous breasts".

  17. Alan Palmer said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 4:21 am

    That is most definitely one of the best "lost in translation" entries so far! I know no Chinese so can't comment on the text but I love the graphic!

    As others mentioned, the north and west is a better area for pubs with Welsh-speaking patrons. It always used to amuse me when visiting many pubs there that, by the speech cadences, you could hear from outside the door that everyone was talking in English, but they'd all switch to Welsh as soon as a stranger appeared.

  18. Mark Etherton said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 5:34 am

    @Alan Palmer

    I have a friend who taught at TCD for a while and who claimed that the same thing happened in pubs in the Gaeltacht. He found this unwelcoming until a colleague explained that the locals feared that he might be an inspector coming to check on whether they were actually speaking Irish, for which they received a subsidy.

  19. Kiwi Dave said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    Does 'royal' here mean 'queensized' – presumably, not 'kingsized'?

  20. Bathrobe said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 9:08 am

    Also missing is the translation of the three sentences beside 'outstanding (ahem) results'.

    In 3 days you'll notice.
    In 20 days your husband will notice.
    In 30 days everyone will notice.

    Obviously things are getting pretty bad in the marriage if it takes 20 days to turn the husband's head.

  21. Lane said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 10:08 am

    I specifically arriving in Aberystwyth to find Welsh spoken in the first pub my friends and I went to. I tried "Noswaith dda" – "good evening" – on the barman, though I have no idea if the pronunciation was even close. People were friendly enough — too friendly maybe. I seem to remember with disappointment they switched to English when we showed up…

  22. Lugubert said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 10:35 am

    Bathrobe made me look up laogong. Plecodict said "eunuch"! But Wenlin gave husband and eunuch, as well as old man.

    Would it be impossible to interpret the first sentence as "Leading brand for Chinese [large breasts/breast enlargemen]?

  23. Alan Palmer said,

    June 1, 2012 @ 4:40 am

    @ Bathrobe: Isn't the husband traditionally the last to notice such things? Maybe Chinese husbands are more observant than those in the West.

  24. Laura said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 6:17 am

    For Welsh: Don't go TOO far west; if you hit Pembrokeshire you get a lot of English. Stop at Carmarthenshire for overhearing Welsh in public.

  25. John Wells said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    Tune in to Radio Cymru. Online at
    (Any comments on my blog posting today, Victor? – re "lychee".)

  26. Victor Mair said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 1:49 am

    @John Wells

    I think you've covered all the main bases, John.

    I will call your post to the attention of my Sinologist friends to see if they have anything additional to offer.

  27. Dylan Llyr said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    It's very disappointing, on Language Log of all places, to see the propagation of this horrible myth about Welsh-speakers privately using English and only switching to Welsh when strangers enter the pub. I am a native Welsh-speaker from Gwynedd who spends a hell of time in the type of pub where this is supposed to occur, but not only have I never witnessed nor heard of such an incident, the whole idea is incoherent and silly. In other words, it doesn't actually happen.

    There are a few things that could have happened that may have caused the wrong impression and created this strange myth. Casual spoken Welsh often includes a lot of English borrowings, even when perfectly fine Welsh words are available for those things. Catching a string of these may lead the listener to assume they're hearing English, yet by the time they get closer and try to listen more carefully they realise they no longer understand. They may conclude that a switch has occurred when it hasn't.

    Additionally, it is increasingly common for groups of friends in these areas to consist of both Welsh- and English-speakers, and in such cases it's only natural that the language spoken switches back and forth constantly, depending on whom is speaking to whom. My friends and I are probably fine examples of this phenomenon, since my fiancée is English; she can understand a fair amount of Welsh but she's not (yet) fluent. Anyway, I think this too could lead a stranger (albeit a rather self-centred one) to conclude that they are the reason for any switch they may have heard.

    The only other possibility I can think of is that whoever started this myth was simply lying. Before you repeat it again I must ask you to consider its malicious implications. It creates the false impression that Welsh isn't really a normal medium of everyday life (it is) and that if we don't think there's anyone listening "we all use English anyway". Perhaps it just shows a refusal or an inability to believe that there are parts of the British mainland, less than a hundred miles from the English border, where the community language isn't English. Anyway, it is hugely damaging since it turns us into sinister users of an outsider-excluding code, and portrays us as unwelcoming, dishonest and suspicious. It is also divisive propaganda, since encouraging distrust of Welsh-speakers is an age old favourite political tactic in Wales.

    I can assure everyone that Welsh-speakers use Welsh in all aspects of their lives. It could hardly be otherwise; it is implausible that a language could survive so well if its only utility was as an occasional code. When people speak Welsh in the pub, they do so before any stranger wanders in and continue in the same vein well after that person has gone. They are discussing football, or rugby, or what they saw on television, or members of the opposite sex, or the previous weekend's drunken antics. Normal people discussing normal things, just like everyone else. They probably don't even notice the guy on the next table muttering to his wife that the rude natives have switched to their gibberish for the sole purpose of excluding him (besides which, even if this nonsense were true, why assume the right to eavesdrop?).

    This vicious myth infuriates and saddens me. Please don't allow yourself to be duped into spreading it.

  28. Dylan Llyr said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 5:58 am

    I'd be interested to hear whether this myth also occurs in the case of other linguistic minorities. I know it is also very common in Ireland, and indeed it was repeated in a comment above. The idea of an inspector going round various pubs repealing subsidies to anyone "caught" speaking English is franly one of the most ludicrous things I've ever heard.

  29. julie lee said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    I'm not sure what 3D means in the sign, but D in bras always means 'extra large (cups, breasts)'. 3D here reminds me of sizes from 32D to 38D . Cup sizes run A (close to flat), B, C , D. I'd guess Marilyn Monroe was 32C.
    The arcs next to the left breast in the picture suggests to me "larger, larger" until you hit D.

  30. Graham Asher said,

    June 3, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

    Thank you, Dylan Llyr for debunking this absurd story, which is an obvious folk myth. I'm not Welsh or a Welsh speaker but I and my family holiday in a Welsh-speaking part of Wales quite often, and I've noticed that it's actually quite hard to figure out whether people are speaking English or Welsh without being almost intrusively close to them, especially when there is any kind of background noise. As Dylan pointed out, there's a lot of code switching and English loanwords.

    It's incredibly annoying that even quite intelligent people trot this story out at the first opportunity when I mention that I love going to North Wales. What can you do? It wouldn't be polite to say 'actually that's rubbish', so one has to grin and bear it.

  31. Gav said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 5:28 am

    Dylan – it was something of a jocose running gag when I was in university in England, in the 1970's, that of course we would switch to Welsh in these circumstances, because we could. I'm not sure it quite deserves the status of myth else it would surely have been brought up in the recent quite astonishing attacks on the language in the "Llais y Sais" aka Western Mail. This is probably not the best place to debate whether or not these are part of a wider political agenda.

    Anyway, apologies – rebuke accepted.

  32. Victor Mair said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    From Bob Ramsey:


    I'm intrigued by those possibilities you raise about "round-trip words", and I suspect you're right about them. But I'll need to try and track the usages down, at least those citations that have been documented.

    The link on British royal big breast secrets is interesting, too; another thing I have to shake my head at. And, in passing, you're certainly right about breast enhancement being big in South Korea (just like virtually every other surgical enhancement of the body known to mankind), but ixnay on the 'Land of the Morning Calm' business. That little shopworn sobriquet has been picked up by Koreans of course, because they find it attractive, I guess. (Among other things, the frequent flyer class on Korean Airlines is called by the company the 'Morning Calm Class'!) But all of this business seems to be just another example of damage done by a misinterpretation of the Chinese writing system, and the certainty in that thinking that every character has to have a meaning. The truth is, though, the Han Chinese transcribed the name of the earliest state they came into contact with on the Korean peninsula with the characters 朝鮮, and that transcription somehow got misconstrued as having some kind of mystical early meaning. The fact is, 朝 could only mean 'morning' if it were read today zhao (first tone), but it's not; it's read chao (second tone), as you well know. And 鮮 has never been associated with the meaning 'calm'. (These Mandarin readings developed quite regularly from Middle Chinese readings.) In fact, the characters were only being used by the Han Chinese as phonograms to transcribe the sounds of a word that was totally opaque to them, and yet everybody since has become enamored with the mysterious 'meaning' of the name. I have often suspected that some early missionary to Korea made that mistranslation as 'morning calm' because he didn't have a good grasp of Chinese. But others have claimed that even before missionaries had arrived in Korea, Koreans had themselves made similar attempts at deciphering the meaning. I don't know what the truth of the origin is. There is of course a historical story here, but in any event all attempts to interpret the meaning of that earliest of all names from the Korean peninsula are a complete waste of time in my opinion.

    But back for a sec to surgical enhancement. When I was in Seoul last summer, the subway cars and stations all had ads for surgery to shave the bone structure of the famous square Korean jaw and make the face egg-like. And even stranger: there are even operations to lengthen the shinbones of the legs! Whatever you can imagine, Korean plastic surgeons do. The students here, in fact (and I suspect at Penn as well), have virtually all had work done on their faces and bodies. It's gotten so that almost all of the young Korean women on campus are hard to tell apart! They all have the look of this or that media star.

  33. Erin Lazzaro said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

    The cup sizes immediately above D are sometimes called E and F, but more commonly DD (pronounced double-D) and DDD (triple-D); DDD is sometimes written as 3D. I really thought this was common knowledge.

  34. The suffocated said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

    @Victor Mair: You have translated 秘笈 incorrectly. While the word 笈 did mean "bookcase" in ancient times, since Qing dynasty, it also meant "book(s)/book collection(s)". In particular, 秘笈 almost always means "secret book", not "secret bookcase".

    The notion of "秘笈" was popularized by the late Qing or early Republic chinese fantasy/martial arts novels, where "秘笈" usually referred to secret books on martial arts or some sort of Taoist magic. For instance, in chapter 8 of 峨嵋仙蹤, a novel rewritten from the famous fantasy novel 蜀山劍俠傳, we have the following sentences:

    "老魔藏有一部《血神經》,是魔教奇珍秘笈,其威力絕大。… 此書共分上中下三冊,上冊是天魔秘笈,其文義深奧,識者不多 …"

    It states clearly that 血神經, the book in question, is a "treasure book" (奇珍秘笈) and it is "a book in three volumes" (此書共分上中下三冊), where the first volume is "The Secret Book of Heavenly Demon" (天魔秘笈). Certainly these sentences do not make any sense if 笈 means "bookcase".

  35. Dylan Llyr said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

    Gav: fair enough!

    It really is a persistent myth that many people genuinely seem to believe though. It pops up far too often in vitriolic comment threads on the internet (and not in anything resembling an ironic manner). I have also had people honestly asking me whether it's true.

    It really is something I find horrible so I couldn't help taking the opportunity to set the record straight.

  36. Victor Mair said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 11:06 pm

    I know as well as you do that mìjí 秘笈 can mean "secret book(s)", but I intentionally translated the term the way I did for the benefit of Language Log readers, most of whom know no Chinese. I also wanted to show the derivation of the term so that its etymology would be apparent for those who were puzzled by the word "tips" in the Chinglish translation.

    For mìjí 秘笈, Google Translate gives "tips", Baidu Fanyi gives "secrets of", and the new Yahoo Babel Fish available to me here in China (where it is called 必应 bing [beta] — it is looking more and more like Google Translate) also gives "tips".

    Please note my wording in the original post: "mìjí 秘笈, which is here rendered as 'tips', is derived from an old term referring to a collection of Taoist or other books replete with arcane, esoteric knowledge."

    So, the evolution of the term goes something like this: a case of books that are full of recondite lore –> the book(s) in such a bookcase –> any rare or secret book(s) (note that mìjí 秘笈 in this sense [the sense you are talking about] is also written mìjí 秘籍, which make it more explicit that it is books that are being talked about) –> the secrets in such books –> tips. You have chosen to focus only on one stage of the evolution of the term, though you do hedge your bets by saying "almost always".

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